Friday, August 7, 2009
Remember the Gallup poll in May?
You know, the one that said that for the first time ever more Americans were pro-life than pro-choice?
You must have heard about this one. This story made its way across the MSM
Christian groups and Right wingers pounced on this news, as indicative of a real game-changer in American politics. Or as Newsbusters' Tom Blumer noted:
What a difference 3 months can make, Tom
What a difference a radical, in your face, abortion-promoting president makes.
Blumer continues in his piece about how the President's position on abortion is so appalling that Americans (10% of them anyway) immediately changed their positions on the issue. And he came to this conclusion based off of one poll!
I believe that the ascendance of Dear Leader Barack Obama has unmasked what being "pro-choice" on abortion is all about. What I believe has really happened is that many of the switchers, with some help from Catholic and other clerics who have finally found their too-long-lost tongues, have learned that being "pro-choice," though a nearly sure bet for avoiding arguments at PC cocktail parties, has real-world consequences that have nothing to do with "choice."...
If the administration and Congress are waiting for public sentiment to return being euphemistically "pro-choice" so they can push FOCA through without fear of electoral consequences, they may have a long wait. I would suggest that it is just as likely that the pro-life margin will increase in the coming years.
The lesson here is that it helps to be a more critical consumer of poll information. If a new poll contradicts the history of poll results on an issue try to figure out why that is. Look at the questions that were asked, the timing of the poll, look at polling trends, who conducted the poll, and most importantly, wait for more polls to come out before making a verdict! Polls that are done well are never technically wrong, but polling data, like the majority consensus in America, can be fickle. It's best to exercise some restraint and humility when dealing with polls.
Here's an example of how to be a critical consumer of poll data, thanks to fleshandstone.net:
The strategically timed release of a poll showing a sudden 10-point flip in American views on abortion should raise a few eyebrows.
Gallup’s press release claimed, "More Americans “Pro-Life” Than “Pro-Choice” for First Time."
While partisan mainstream editorial writers openly gloated about the “stunning” and “shocking” poll released in May, few traditional media looked critically and honestly at what the poll actually revealed, and reported the findings with the same slant as the news release. Rather than spending a minute exploring why it was stunning or shocking, the media simply reported it as fact.
First off, polls should be suspect. While they may have been reliable in a more innocent age, Gallup, like many other polling companies, is a for-profit corporation. They are commissioned to conduct polls. Unfortunately, polling companies are not required to disclose the name of the commissioning organization, even though it’s the ethically responsible thing to do.
The Gallup poll was released on the day anti-abortion groups planned protests against President Obama's commencement address at Notre Dame and just as there’s a new seat to fill on the U.S. Supreme Court. It certainly smells of partisan efforts to create a buzz and revitalize controversy.